Swans Commentary » swans.com January 28, 2013  



Muck And Mystery Unearthed!
Part II of II


by Michael Barker



[Read the first part of this essay.]


(Swans - January 28, 2013)   Lady Eve Balfour's interest in "muck and mystery" would continue to play "a highly significant and, at times, possibly a dominant role" in her life, and when she wrote the introduction to the New Age book Co-operation Between Workers on Different Planes of Consciousness (Stockwell, 1954), authored by Veronica, "she referred to 'the life-giving force of all creation -- Divine Love'." As Gill writes: "More than once, Eve distinguished between materialists and non-materialists, asserting that the Soil Association was made of non-materialists and that the number of people who recognised the limitations of a materialist conception of life was growing." Eve's personal papers and correspondence likewise attest to the significance of her anti-materialist convictions, and "provide a large amount of documentary evidence indicating that she had a great and wide-ranging interest in unconventional forms of healing, including spiritual and occult methods." (1) For instance, in a letter written to her brother in October 1960 she writes:

... I believe we all live simultaneously on two levels -- an inner spiritual (ie. eternal or cosmic) level, and a material, outer and transient level. When these two levels are perfectly integrated we see perfect man (as in the human who was one with the cosmic Christ). Probably the majority of people are totally unaware of the inner level. To them the outer level is all, and the other is thought of, if at all, as something belonging only to an after life state. The next evolutionary stage, which many of us have now reached is, I feel, to know intellectually that we are dualities and that the inner level is the most important. But we still act sometimes on one level and sometimes on the other, but without necessarily being aware of which is dominant (awareness is yet a further stage on). All the senses are duplicated on both levels. There is the outer physical ear, eye, voice, etc., and the inner ear, eye and voice. When people have E.S.P gifts and see and hear non-material things it is not the physical ear, eye they sense them with, but it seems to the beholder or hearer that it is. (Ask any clairvoyant). (2)

Following on with from such occult concerns, it is fitting that "[f]rom the late 1940s until the late 1960s, the Soil Association's annual conference was held at the adult educational college at Attingham Park," which was run by "Eve's personal friend," "New Age religious guru" and Soil Association member, Sir George Trevelyan (1906-1996). Gill does not mention it, but Trevelyan was an active anthroposophist. Moreover, at the events held at Attingham, Eve was considered to be something of a charismatic New Age guru herself, "such that a 'minder' was needed at the Attingham conferences to 'hold back the crowds who ringed forward to speak to and touch Eve -- even kissing her hand to her utter dismay'." (3)

In keeping with Eve's belief in nonsense, in 1967 she suggested that her sister Mary seek the help of a psychic surgeon called Dr. Lang to cure her hearing (which she evidently did with some "success"). Another of Eve's personal fads was "psionic medicine." And it turns out that the vice president of the British-based Psionic Medicine Society "was Eve's friend and founder member of the Soil Association, Aubrey T. Westlake, a retired physician who had a Quaker background and interests that included the 'open-air movement', radiesthesia, dowsing, and the economic and political arguments of the social credit movement." As Gill concludes, a "willingness to give serious consideration to the seemingly implausible seems to have been Eve Balfour's modus operandi." (4)

In 1965, Sir George Trevelyan met the founder of the Findhorn Community at a New Age conference at Attingham Park, and went on to become one of Peter Caddy's most important supporters, penning the foreword to the communities book The Findhorn Garden: Pioneering a New Vision of Humanity and Nature in Co-operation (Findhorn, 1970). After Trevelyan had paid his first visit to Findhorn in early 1968 he immediately wrote to Eve "to ask her to ensure that the Soil Association would give the community at Findhorn assistance in establishing a composting system for its 'magic' garden." (5)

Eve's response to Trevelyan's request that the Soil Association assist Findhorn and to her sister's positive impressions was to encourage Soil Association members to visit the Scottish community. Mary wrote in November 1968: "Yes, obviously, that is the right thing for the Soil Association to encourage as many individuals as possible to go and see for themselves." Mary seems to have accepted the possibility that the Findhorn garden was being assisted by invisible spirits or forces and shows no sign of concern that her sister might find such an idea incredible: "I think the Findhorn crowd are very sensible of the difficulty of 'broadcasting' the alleged cause of what is happening and do not intend to include certain material [in a booklet about the garden that was being prepared] except to a few individuals who are in the know. (p.200)

In 1969, Soil Association founding member, Donald Wilson, "made the first of four visits to Findhorn at Eve's behest" to help them establish a composting system (as per Trevelyan's request). (6) While later in the year, "one of the Soil Association's most eminent members and a close ally of Eve's, Dr Lindsay Robb," publicly endorsed the garden, and his kind words were consequently included in a pamphlet about Findhorn's magic. Gill points out how: "The similarities between the practice of manifestation as developed by the early Findhorn community and the prayers to Higher Powers made by Eve and Mary Balfour (and possibly others associated with the Soil Association) are striking." (7) Unfortunately Gill does not explain that the obvious spiritual tissue connecting the two ventures was Anthroposophy. That said, Gill does go on to note that another "key figure of the early Soil Association whose religious belief" was "significantly influenced by Steiner's religion" was Laurence Easterbrook OBE (1893-1965). (8) Gill continues:

Easterbrook was a respected agricultural correspondent, employed by both the News Chronicle and the Daily Mail. His commitment to the Soil Association lasted from its creation in 1946 until his death in 1965, and he was a close ally of Eve Balfour's. Eve's papers indicate that the two shared more than simply an interest in promoting organic agriculture; they both had a Spiritualist-influenced religious worldview. Easterbrook believed he had communicated with, and received important information from, a spirit called Bay and felt that the purpose of our lives is to develop our own spirits so that we can gain access to higher planes of existence and contribute to the unfolding of the 'cosmic plan'. A tribute to Laurence Easterbrook, written by Rolf Gardiner, who was a Soil Association council member and a friend of both George Trevelyan and Eve Balfour, suggested that Easterbrook held "the inspired beliefs of the esoteric sage" and that "no one meeting him... suspected him of being a mystic or a saint: yet something of those qualities were there." Eve Balfour noted that Easterbrook had an "acute awareness that our physical world is only a small part of reality." (p.205)

In keeping with Gill's conclusion that in its "early years the Soil Association should be viewed as a religiously-infused or quasi-religious body" she adds that:

The list of early Soil Association members known to have held unconventional religious beliefs is a long one and includes Aubrey Westlake, Rolf Gardiner, Gerard Wallop, Walter James, and Robert Waller. Indeed, in The Occult Establishment, Webb uses the term "illuminated farmers" to describe Westlake, Gardiner and Wallop, as a way of highlighting their exploration of esotericism and occultism via agriculture. Other, less wellknown figures from the early Soil Association who held unconventional religious beliefs, included administrator Connie Miller, who was a Christian Scientist, as well as Philip Burman, a chemist who contributed many science-focused articles to Mother Earth and who was also a Spiritualist. (pp.210-11)

Although there was ongoing resistance from some Soil Association members to other (Steiner-inspired) "members who held scientifically-untenable, 'vitalist' ideas about plant growth," such central influences did not simply evaporate. Eve continued to play a central leadership role in all the Soil Association's activities until the mid '60s, only returning "to a more active role in the late 1970s, after president Fritz Schumacher's sudden death." (9) During the 1960s, under the guidance of their spiritually-minded editorial secretary, Robert Waller (who served in this position between 1963 and 1972), the Soil Association moved to adopt a broader environmental agenda. (10) These changes, however, were not appreciated by all members (including Eve), and when Dr. Fritz Schumacher -- most famous as being the author of Small is Beautiful (1973) -- became their president in 1970 (having been a member since 1951), he was of the opinion that they "should resist evolving into a generalist environmental organisation and, instead, retain a strong focus on organic food and farming." Yet this did not mean that the Association's spiritual past would be jettisoned anytime soon, and Schumacher's "strong and unconventional beliefs," which were certainly highly compatible with resurgent New Age community, were most likely appreciated by Eve. (11)

Schumacher's interest in the spiritual realm tied in neatly with his membership of the Soil Association: as although turning to Marxist economics during the War, in the War's aftermath his inability to succeed in helping to rebuild the economy led him "to reject his materialism and to explore religious and spiritualist beliefs." The year before his sudden death in 1977, Schumacher, embracing his new-found position as environmental guru even gave a lecture at the Findhorn Foundation. (12) Meredith Veldman adds that:

His spiritual journey in many ways anticipated that of the counterculture over a decade later. Astrology, yoga, organic foods, Eastern religions, and Western mysticism all played their part in leading Schumacher away from an empiricist outlook to a romantic world view. (13)

Gill thus concludes her study by suggesting that new age ideas affected the leadership of the Soil Association "until at least the late 1970s." But here she wavers somewhat, acknowledging that: "Several among those who took over leadership of the Soil Association in the late 1970s and early 1980s were involved in and/or had an interest unconventional religious and spiritual movements, including the ideas of George Gurdjieff and biodynamic farming." Even when "control of the Soil Association was fully wrested from Eve Balfour and her allies" in the early 1980s, Gill argues it is "doubtful" that all their leaders ditched their spiritual beliefs, and she is simply of the opinion that "they appear to have understood the importance of downplaying spiritual and religious belief when presenting the Soil Association to policymakers and the public." (14) Gill makes no attempt to identify such leaders, so it is surely significant that the long-serving Director of the Soil Association (1995-2010), Patrick Holden CBE, was first trained in biodynamic agriculture at the Anthroposophical Society's Emerson College (in the early 1970s), and since 2011 has served as the patron of the Biodynamic Association.

By emphasizing the importance of magical thinking, Erin Gill's study provides a welcome corrective to previous decidedly nonspiritual histories of the organic movement. With the ongoing crisis, that is capitalism, it should come as no surprise that in some quarters interest in such dangerous and irrational anti-materialism is on the rise, making it all the more urgent that a socialist alternative is presented with vigor and dynamicism. Previous crises saw Rudolf Steiner's white supremacist hogwash find its perfect counterpart in the mythologizing bullshit of Nazi fascism. (15) Consequently, learning the appropriate lessons from history is essential if we are to prevent the re-emergence of reactionary ideas in the near future; wholesome organic ideas must be publicly severed from their supernatural biodynamic partners. No doubt, spiritual patrons of the Soil Association, like the His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, will not be so happy with such developments, but for the sake of reinvigorating an environmental movement that can fight for the principles of the enlightenment for all, it must be done, and done now.


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1.  Gill, Lady Eve Balfour and the British Organic Food and Farming Movement, p.172, p.174, p.195, p.184. "In her seven-page introduction to Co-operation, Eve Balfour argues that science is in the midst of proving the validity of many seemingly unscientific, spiritual beliefs: 'We have now arrived at the exciting stage in human development when science is almost daily producing confirmatory evidence of truths previously known only in the fields of revealed wisdom or inherited memory.' She adds: 'Possibly the world will always contain die-hard materialists; the new situation is that they can no longer call on science in support of their views.'" (p.176)  (back)

2.  Gill, Lady Eve Balfour and the British Organic Food and Farming Movement, p.178. Eve Balfour to Robert "Ral" Balfour, 27/10/60 (Personal Papers of Evelyn and Michael Brander). In another letter to her brother sent in the early 1960s, she writes: "I believe that as indestructible spiritual beings, we have lived actively on many planes, and will continue to do so; that whatever wavelength, or rate of vibration, we happen to be operating on, we build ourselves bodies suitable to those conditions, both for protection, and to use as our instrument.

"Here on Earth, I believe our physical bodies and brains are intended to be the instrument of our minds and that our minds are inseparable from our spirits... I believe that the purpose of our individual existence is to gather experience into the pool of spirit, and to evolve until we are fully self-conscious, recognising and fully aware of the divinity within us and identifying our 'I' with it, so that we can use our instrument as our tool... instead of having it largely control us..." (p.175)

Gill notes that: "A large proportion of the volumes of correspondence between Eve and Mary Balfour during the 1960s represent a dialogue in which the two sisters expressed their latest thoughts about the New Age, the spirit messages they had been reading, and various New Age religious practices they were engaged in." (pp.180-1)  (back)

3.  Gill, Lady Eve Balfour and the British Organic Food and Farming Movement, p.209, p.188, p.179. During the 1950s and 1960s, Eve Balfour also maintained connections with more apocalyptic New Age groups such as Liebie Pugh's Universal Link and Anthony Brooke's and Monica Parrish's Universal Foundation. (p.180) Gill points out that Eve and Mary "were probably members" of Universal Link. (p.184)  (back)

4.  Gill, Lady Eve Balfour and the British Organic Food and Farming Movement, pp.185-6, p.188. Gill adds: "Also of note, a good friend of Eve Balfour's, Mary de Bunsen, describes in her 1960 memoir an unsuccessful attempt by a healer practising radiesthesia to treat her heart condition. De Bunsen names neither the friend who suggested she try this unconventional treatment, nor the healer who visits her and fails to resolve her problem. It is speculation on my part, but nevertheless a possibility, that de Bunsen is referring to Eve Balfour and Aubrey Westlake..." (p.186)  (back)

5.  Gill, Lady Eve Balfour and the British Organic Food and Farming Movement, p.200.  (back)

6.  Gill, Lady Eve Balfour and the British Organic Food and Farming Movement, p.201. A memoir "written by Donald Wilson's wife, Enid, who accompanied her husband on two of his four trips to Findhorn, makes it clear that she and her husband accepted many of the religious beliefs promoted by the leaders of Findhorn, Eileen and Peter Caddy." (p.202)  (back)

7.  Gill, Lady Eve Balfour and the British Organic Food and Farming Movement, p.201, p.192. "Initially, the leaders of Findhorn appear to have asked Mary Balfour to write an endorsement, perhaps because of her title as Lady Mary Balfour and, certainly, because of her relationship to Eve Balfour of the Soil Association. Mary felt uncomfortable about the idea of publicly endorsing Findhorn: 'They want me to write a contribution to comments they hope to insert at the end of the booklet. ... I feel very diffident about this. It seems impossible to be positive about what is happening there based on one short visit, whatever one might feel inwards. To be too positive I feel could do more harm than good at this stage. I'll have to think it over'... Likewise, Eve seems to have been careful about publicising her involvement with and interest in Findhorn. However, eventually, she both visited and spoke at Findhorn, but is not known to have endorsed it in writing." (p.201)  (back)

8.  Gill, Lady Eve Balfour and the British Organic Food and Farming Movement, p.205. "Easterbrook was an admirer of Rudolf Steiner, although he was critical of the way Steiner's religion, Anthroposophy, had developed. In a tribute to Steiner, published in the April 1961 edition of Mother Earth (pp. 611-614), Easterbrook wrote: 'I think of him as a highly evolved being who volunteered for service on this earth to deliver us equally from the intellectual poverty of second-rate scientists and the dreary materialism of the established church. He came to demonstrate to us that religion and science are indivisible..." (p.612)'" (p.206)  (back)

9.  Gill, Lady Eve Balfour and the British Organic Food and Farming Movement, p.211, p.144, p.171, p.169.  (back)

10.  Robert Waller had replaced the Soil Association's longtime editorial secretary (Jorian Jenks) in 1963 when he suddenly passed away. "An edited collection of Waller's writings and tributes written by friends and family, published in 2008, makes it abundantly clear that Waller favoured metaphysical explanations, had an intense interest in eastern spirituality, particularly the system of divination known as I Ching, and believed himself to have had out-of body experiences. He wrote extensively about the limitations of scientific knowledge to explain nature and life. See Poet of Ecology." (p.210) In 1972 Waller joined The Ecologist as an associate editor.  (back)

11.  Gill, Lady Eve Balfour and the British Organic Food and Farming Movement, p.159, p.148, p.211. "Waller's assistant, Michael Allaby, would go on to work with Edward Goldsmith to create The Ecologist. The Ecologist is one of a substantial list of organic and/or environmental initiatives, organisations and/or publications whose conceptions were supported -- often financially -- by the Soil Association." (p.148) Also of interest, in 1959/60, the Soil Association helped set up a shop called Wholefood in London, with their secretary, Donald Wilson, acting as Wholefood's first manager. (p.162)  (back)

12.  Meredith Veldman, Fantasy, the Bomb & the Greening of Britain: Romantic protest, 1945-1980 (Cambridge University Press, 1994), p.276, p.293. E. F. Schumacher, "The World Crisis and the Wholeness of Life," Findhorn Foundation Lecture Series, October 1976.  (back)

13.  Veldman, Fantasy, the Bomb & the Greening of Britain, p.276.Although Gill cites Veldman's book she does not refer to it with regard to explicating Fritz Schumacher's longstanding new age sensibilities. Veldman continues: "Schumacher himself credited organic gardening with his conversion. It shattered his loyalty to the intellect and opened him up to the spiritual world... Having turned in a new direction, Schumacher ran down this new road with the same energy and overconfidence with which he had embraced atheism. He joined the Society of Psychical Research as a means to explore the existence of spiritual forces, began to practice astrology and yoga, and, through an acquaintance at the National Coal Board, joined a group of disciples of the spiritual master G. I. Gurdjieff. With his mother, he translated into German The New Man, a work by Maurice Nicoll that linked Gurdjieff's teachings to Christianity." (p.277)  (back)

14.  Gill, Lady Eve Balfour and the British Organic Food and Farming Movement, p.213, p.230. In the cited footnote Gill refers to Philip Conford's article "Somewhere Quite Different: The Seventies Generation of Organic Activists & their Context," Rural History, 19:2 (2008), "and his forthcoming book on the history of the British organic movement during the second half of the twentieth century."  (back)

15.  For an exposition of why Rudolf Steiner should be considered to be a white supremacist, see J. Sakai's review of Anna Bramwell's Blood and Soil: Walter Darre and Hitler's Green Party (Kensall Press, 1985) -- an extended version of which was published as the pamphlet The Green Nazi: An Investigation into Fascist Ecology (AK Press, 2002). For a detailed discussion of the historical connections between fascism and the organic movement, see George McKay, Radical Gardening: Politics, Idealism and Rebellion in the Garden (Frances Lincoln, 2011), pp.42-69; and Janet Biehl and Peter Staudenmaier, Ecofascism: Lessons from the German Experience (AK Press, 1995) -- a revised edition of this book was published in late 2011 by New Compass Press.

As mentioned earlier, many of the members of the Soil Association's founding council were active in right-wing and even fascist political organizations; two particularly notable exceptions to this were Innes Pearse and her partner George Scott-Williamson who are best known as being the founders of the Peckham Health Centre (for further details, see "Anarchism and the Welfare State: The Peckham Health Centre"). Unfortunately, this racist history remains little discussed within environmental circles. This problem is exemplified by public discussion of such matters in the Soil Association's own ranks: As Gill writes, "Take, for instance, the question of Eve Balfour's response to far-right elements within the organic movement. In the course of my research I found no evidence that Eve Balfour ever confronted directly the far-right beliefs of some organic supporters. For years, she worked with the Soil Association's editor Jorian Jenks, whose involvement with Mosley's fascist movement continued into the 1950s, and she was friendly with others whose political leanings have attracted suspicion, not least Rolf Gardiner and Gerard Wallop. Yet it is clear that Eve did not share Jenks', Gardiner's, Wallop's and others' far-right politics." (p.234) Gill fails to examine the connections betweens Steiner's work and the growth of fascism. She thus concludes: "The 'secret' about the early Soil Association -- if there is one -- is patently not a connection to the far right, but rather it is its substantial links to New Age religion." (p.234)  (back)


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Published January 28, 2013